Chandeliers, sconces, dimmers, bulbs—there's a lot to consider when it comes to artfully lighting your space. It may all feel a bit overwhelming when starting from scratch, but experts agree that lighting is one of the most important décor elements in our homes. What else has the unique ability to transform the vibrancy of a room and set the mood in a quick flip of a switch?
To get a little more insight into the role lighting plays in our homes and how to best utilize it, we hosted a panel during High Point Market Week with our friends at Soraa. Our editorial director, Sacha Strebe, quizzed the four insanely talented interior designers—all of whom boast years of experience and high-profile clients to boot—on lighting trends, simple updates, and the most common (but completely avoidable) mistakes they see. Prepare to be enlightened.
The panelists included interior designers Jason Oliver Nixon and John Loecke, the men behind Madcap Cottage's whimsical and sophisticated designs; MA Allen, who's known for combining clean lines with a modern sensibility; and Heather Garrett, who focuses on creating functional, beautiful spaces for families.
What's your number one rule when planning lighting in a home?
MA ALLEN: My biggest goal out of the gate is to make sure there's enough lighting. It's really hard to go back in and add more later.
JASON O. NIXON: Lighting is very important. I think it's about having multiple points of light in a room so that you can dim things and can change the look so it rounds out perfectly.
HEATHER GARRETT: As much as possible, I think about how I can hardwire the ambiance and the experience that I hope to design for the clients. This way it's not up to them to remember to turn on all the lamps or only some of the lamps at certain times, or to remember what level to set the chandelier in order to make it feel best at 5 p.m.
What do you do when a client doesn't want to invest in good lighting?
MAA: Clients are saying "We want all LED, everything." So since we're already there with them, it's much easier to compare products. With Soraa, I've had the lightbulbs and this whole kit to show. You have a piece of paper that's red and white, you take it under different light bulbs, and it's just night and day. I think seeing that in person is illuminating, and then someone's willing to spend the extra dollars to have the true color-rendering light.
How do we incorporate more natural light into our homes if we don't have access to it?
JN: One of our favorite restaurants in New York is Indochine, and it's one of those classic restaurants that's been around for about 30 years. It doesn't have a window in the entire place, but they've used really good lighting and that great frond wallpaper like in the Beverly Hills Hotel. The idea is that great lighting and a mix of telling a story through prints and pattern make the space feel fresh and inviting.
HG: We were working on a studio apartment that was windowless, and we ended up painting the brick walls white, strategically placing plants—some hanging and some on the ground—and putting up lighting. Nestling some lights in the plants and also washing the walls with light helped.
Is there a trick to layering the lighting?
JOHN LOECKE: We always make sure there's lighting near seating areas. We'll put floor outlets in places to make sure you get lighting [near the] seating so that everything is not around the edges of the room. You need to bring some light into the middle.
MAA: It's all about planning. It takes cabinet plans, elevation, furniture layouts, and more so you can plan for those floor outlets. We've also been putting two-inch cans on the ceiling directly above the sides of the bed with a little switch. You can get such a narrow beam of light that illuminates a book in your hands, but the rest of the room will be dark. That's the amazing technology that lighting is providing us.
What are the types of lighting styles and bulbs you like to use together to create the perfect ambiance?
HG: I like a lamp with a shade. Whether it's a shade on a chandelier bulb or a shade on a lamp, I think that shading and the material you're using—whether it's paper or silk—has a huge impact on the wattage you need.
JL: To Heather's point, I like lining the lampshade with pink silk. When you used to go to those cafés, you would sit there in that pink room with the pink silk shade, and it made you look 20 years younger. It's an instant face-lift.
What are some of the big lighting trends that you think will be coming through this year and next?
JN: I think we're feeling a chandelier situation coming on and more shaded chandeliers. It's a lot about finding pieces that also make a statement and have a story.
HG: Cut metalwork. It's happening in the chandeliers and the lamps now too.
MAA: I think we'll also continue seeing a grid with flush-outs rather than using recessed cans. Inserting a bit more decorative lighting as opposed to just the strictly functional general lighting is popular too.
What advice do you have for homeowners who want to open up a small space?
MAA: I like mirrors. They can help reflect the little light you do have coming in. I know a lot of people will say to paint the space a light color, but I just want to paint it what I want to paint it. So paint the color you want, but use the reflective satin- or eggshell-type paint because that's going to give a little bit more reflection of the light that's coming in.
JN: We do a lot with putting reflective surfaces on ceilings, like a silvered wallpaper. I think that helps reflect the light back into the room and diffuse the light so it really creates a nice glow.
HG: I think if you can choose three points in the room, switch those outlets on to create little moments that are illuminating at once. I think that helps a small space feel cozy.
What's the one thing you'd never do with lighting, and why?
HG: Hang a track in the middle of a room for general lighting. It's really common (and bad!).
MAA: When you have multiple trays on a ceiling, and the rope or tape is there, sometimes it just starts to feel more Vegas to me than cozy.
JL: When we bought this house, the kitchen had a 10-by-6 [faux skylight]. In the '90s, it was very popular to do daylight lighting in kitchens with these faux skylights that basically illuminated the whole ceiling, and it just looked awful. It was fluorescent lighting—not a friendly light. And we have a client we've worked on some things with where you overlight a space. Sometimes you can take things too far; you can have too many cans and too many everything, and you just need to take it back.